the elena/chris/david adventure…a few photos


The stunning Lake Bled in the Julien Alps, Slovenia

Ljubljana, Slovenia...still cant pronounce this

Alright, enough scenery, now for the fun people photos!

David trying to pet the swan :)

Chris looking very content after we found him a fresh milk dispensing machine in Slovenia

David and I just being us, happy to be traveling!

Mini golf!

We found an Olympia van and got reallllly excited!


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a french 4th of July

Yesterday evening my wonderful hosts here at Chateau Brandeau, Fearn and Andrea, made sure that we had a proper, classically American 4th of July celebration.  Fear, who grew up in San Francisco and was maybe having a bit of nostalgia about the whole occasion took the preparations to a whole new level and we ended up celebrating this Independance Day more traditionally than I believe I ever have!  It was a beautiful warm and sunny July day, not as muggy as it has been, and we spent most of the day gardening or being lazy and reading.  It was not until early evening that the real festivities and preparations began.  Fearn was determined to have a classic American barbecue which included: hamburgers (homemade though, with tasty steak hache and french bread buns), potatoe chips, french fries, coleslaw, brownie sundaes, beers… and I think that  about covers it.  He made sure to buy all of the most revoltingly artificially colored sauces and toppings at the grocery store, most of which are of the brand, McKennedy’s American, no way you can find thousand island or relish or even ketchup under any local brand name, haha.  All in all, with a few minor moderations like the bread, deliiiiicious carmelized onions, some fresh sauteed courgettes from the garden, etc, the meal was delightful.  We ate until we were stuffed and loved every bit of it.

Fearn and another guest broke out their saxophones and gave us a couple lovely renditions of patriotic classics like the Star Spangled Banner, followed up by some more non-descript but equally entertaining jazz improv.  Ooh!  I almost forgot, one of the most entertaining moments were the “Americano” brand Campari and orange aperitifs, really quite disgusting….kind of tasted like really bad sangria, or grenadine and OJ, but Fearn insisted on them because of the brand name.  Andrea then pulled out meter long straw with which to drink them.  It was like a classic scene from a Cancun spring break, drinking out of these massive straws….it was just missing a crowd of young bikini clad students and a giant fish bowl of alcohol instead of the petite glasses we were using.  This picture is of Fox, Fearns mother, beautifully decked out in her red, white and blue for the occasion and downing her drink like a pro :)

Look at Fox, like a pro!

After dinner we had a very random, but really quite interesting, felt making lesson;  Two of our guests from England were professional felters, like literally, they own a felt shop, teach classes, and one of them travels the world doing workshops and learning about all of the different felt techniques in different cultures.  The real after-dinner entertainment however was our mini fireworks show, complete with roman candles, bottle rockets, the little ones that fizz on the ground in different colors and….. my personal favorite, sparklers!!!!  We shot them all off one of the vineyards for the perfect finale to our fantastically patriotic evening.  I thanked them all for an incredible 4th away from home and went to bed with a very full tummy and sweet nostalgic dreams of many 3rd of Julys in Boston Harbor, rocket pops, experiments with explosives at Sean’s house and many more wonderful Independance Day traditions.  Happy 4th to everyone; hope you all enjoyed it!

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vineyard photos

I have yet to take photos with the camera I’m borrozing from Chris, but for now here are a couple I borrowed off the website to give a quick idea of what this place is like!

Fearn and Andrea on the patio looking out over the lower vineyard

The Chateau

Endless rows of vines, though these are looking pretty tame right now :)

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the taming of the vines

Chateau Brandeau, a wonderful, small scale organic vineyard located in Castillon, part of the Cotes de Bordeaux region and producer of tasty, inexpensive Merlots.  I have committed just over 2 weeks, my last 2 weeks abroad to voluteering in the vineyards here in exchange for a cozy room and 3 delicious meals a day.  Fearn and Andrea are my hosts, the owners of the vineyard who are both very active in the maitenance and running of the whole production.  They came down here from England years and years ago, but maintain that lively English humor and are excellent hosts.  Along with them, there are a host of other volunteers; 3-5 on average from all over the place.  Some from England; some from France, and the majority from the States, ranging in age from 20, like me, to 60!  It is a lively atmosphere, where everyone is keen to lend a helping hand, all chores are shared, we cook and clean, and work the fields together, retiring at the end of the day for some wine or a cold beer and long chats in the garden or naps and reading in the shade.  I can’t think of a better way to spend my last two weeks in Europe!

We work 6 days a week.  Monday through Friday, we get up at 5 am, have tea and a light breakfast, then are out amongst the vines from 6-9.  At that point we come in for a proper breakfast, some more energy to keep us going for the last 4 hours; and then proceed to work from 9:30 until 1:30, when we hobble back in with grumbling tummies eager for a cool drink, some shade and some lunch!  Though the early mornings seemed brutal at first, I got used to them after day one and you come to love the early hours, watching the sun rise over the hill and working peacefully in the refreshing chill and silence of the dawn.  Then by the time you have finished lunch and taken a well earned shower you still have the whole afternoon ahead of you to read, nap, chat, whatever youd like!  Today we are going to the local lake at 6 for an evening swim before dinner :)

The work is not easy going, it is challenging, but rewarding when you see a row of tamed, untangled, orderly vines completed behind you.  So far our tasks have consisted of 2 main techniaues that need to be completed at this point in the season (No, I am not picking nor stomping on grapes with bare feet for those of you who have a lovely little image of that whirring in your head, that is not until September, the vondage) We instead do either èpamprage (pruning or “suckering” in english) or levage (lifting).  The first is definitely the harder of the tzo, you have to crouch down over and over to the base of the vines, clipping off and stray chutes, or any other plants competing for nutrients with the vine.  You get down and dirty with those vines and if you are me come out of it with lots of wonderful hives and nettles stings, ohhh yippee for being allergic to all plantsssssssssss!  Haha; actually it isnt so bad, and I have found that my skin seems to be getting used to the irritation and has been fine the past couple of days.  The levage is the process of lifting the wires that run along the ros supporting the vines.  This probably sounds fairly simple, but this is where the “taming of the vines” comes in because my god can these vines be unruly!  This is apparently a year of surprisingly fast growth on our particular vineyard, so the vines have gone wild, turning into complex knots of tough green rope with an attitude.  Vines have a natural tendency to wrap around anything and everything they come in contact with and will grow in whichever direction they can find space…. unfortunately, we only want thel grozing in one direction: UP, and we want them to do it as straightly as possible.  So!  This explains the wrestling, and it literally auite resembles full on wrestling with a giant green plant…a definite source for laughter or cries of frustration, even at 6:30 am.  At a more positive moment this morning, I also made the comparison to flower arranging, a much happier image if you would prefer, though honestly, that stage only comes after significant ass kicking of the vine has been accomplished.

I have yet to see if there will be more tasks in the vineyards.  The other day I got to help with sheep shearing on the farm though and that was a definite highlight!  Sheep must be sheared once a year, and Fearn sells the wool to a friend; to be used as mulch in the garden (something I never knez could be done) or as insulation!  A professional comes to do the actual shearing, but our job was to quickly bag the freed wool and to grab the next victim from the heard – a very interesting process.  Sheep may seem sweet and docile, but in fact they are strong buggers that take a specific technique to effectively take down, flip over and hold on their backs where they basically will sit on their bums and cease to be squirly once youve got them there.  It took a few tried, but I finally got it down by the end… a definite sheep master in the making.  I was also quite surprised to find that it is a rather messy business, sheep shit and mud EVERYWHERE, including on the wools that gets filthily stuffed into giant plastic bags.  It makes be question every Patagonia fleece I have ever worn growing…I would hope they have a much more sterile process or some heavy duty treatments of the wool after the fact to clean it up :/  The final excitement of my introduction to sheep was piercing one of their ears!  One of their tags had fallen off and had to be replaced, so I volunteered for the job.  It is much like piercing a humans ear, but with a larger, much lore intimidating device and none of that steriliwation, alcohol swab nonsense, in fact this all took place in the same shit filled pen.  I thought…, hey, I have pierced ears, I should have to experience what it feels like to inflict that same pain on another living creature.  He squirmed a bit on impact, though not apparently anymore than I probably did at age 3 when I first had my ears pierced :)  sadly, there was no sheep lollipop to give him afterwards, haha.

There are loads of other things I am learning about the wine-making process, the business of running an organic as opposed to a normal vineyard (organic is MUCH more labor intensive and is constantly at the threat of more crop threats like mildew, black rot, etc), different regional wines, etc.  It has been an incredibly fascinating experience thus far and I cannot wait to continue the adventure for another week and a half.  Today is Friday and its the first time in a while that Im excited for a Friday!  Tomorrow we will sleep in a bit before contributing a couple hours of light work around the garden and then there is talk of a trip to the coast to spend one of these hot hot days swimming in the Atlantic!!!

I will post again soon with any further vine adventures!  To those readers in Washington; I am homeward bound on July 14th and looking forward to reunions with you all!!

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I just had a funny random thought… It is actually quite ironic that I named this blog Passport? Check! since my passport is the one, big, important thing that I have actually lost this semester, yeaaa… lesson learned I suppose and now that very important litte question to self, “Passport?” is very much ingrained in my head :)

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apologies for the absence

Hello all of my lovely blog readers…there may only be like 5 of you, but that is just fine.  I need to apologize for the complete lack of posts in the past month!  There a couple of explanations: 1) The end of school and transition into travels is naturally a very busy time, so the blog got put a bit on the back burner, my bad; 2) My camera was stolen in my last week in Barcelona, so without pictures I was feeling a little less inspired to write posts… poor excuse, I know; 3) I had fairly limited internet access during the last month because I was constantly hopping between hostel connections, using someone elses computer and never with substantial chunks of time to setlle down and write long profound posts.  Soooo, that explains it, sorry again, but I will briefly fill you in on what I have been upto and give a few highlights from those various adventures.

So I left Barcelona on May 31st.  We had many many goodbye parties with someone leaving practically everyday for the week beforehand.  It was sad, but relatively tearless with confident plans that at some point in the near future, most of us will see eachother again.

The MelonDistrict gang saying our first rounds of goodbyes at the fancy W hotel bar

From there I flew east to Zagreb, Croatia where I reunited with my family, all 4 this time.  I had just spent some great time with my Dad and Grandpa in Barcelona and Madrid the previous weekend, but now all 4 of us were finally in the same place… Jordi back from his exciting advenutres in South America and seeing my mom again after her visit in early April with my Grandma, we have been quite the busy family globetrotting this year, its a bit crazy really!

From there we enjoyed a spectacular two week trip exploring the Dalmatian coast and Istria regions of Croatia.  I went from being able to fluently speak the native language to not knowing a single word in just a few hours and that alone was quite a shock….still actually; after two weeks there, the only word I can honestly remeber is “Jively,” meaning Cheers!  Guess I should stick with the romance languages :)  Our first week or so was spent in the oh so lovely Villa Elena, tucked in the rolling green, and rather rainy, hills of Istria.  We cooked great feasts in the traditional kitchen; played hours of cards, watched movies, read, saw the Roman amphitheater in Pula….ate, ate, and ate some more!  Welcome to the theme of Pellicer family vacations!  Istria is knozn for its truffles – not the rich and velvety chocolates however – but the delectable mushrooms, with a rich, warm, somewhat nutty flavor that goes perfectly with dark meat, cheeses, potatoes and really, as we discovered in several local restaurants a shockingly wide variety of things can be accompanied by this rather frightening looking small fungus.  Though they were the local delicacy, this was not exactly reflected in the price; so we did a lot of cooking at home, having fun with the big outdoor oven and baking with fresh summer fruits.

Well I could go on about food for hours, so we should move on to the next leg of the trip, 4 nights on a 45 foot sailboat, skippered by Josipa, our lively, talented and all around badass capitan!  Though we had almost no wind, the water was beautiful turquoise, warm and salty for ideal swimming and there was lots and lots of sun to work on our golden tans :)  It was a very relaxing little getaway, with short stops in picturesque little ports or hidden bays where a little man would come greet you in his boat to collect the moorage fee but also to offer you a fresh baked loaf of bread in the morning, delivered to your boatside… I love it.  All in all it was a fabulous way to see the coast and some of the little islands.  We spent my dads birthday on Hvar, the island known as the St. Tropez of Croatia, ritzy and full of yachts.  Thankfully it was rather early season and we really saw very little of the reputed highlife, instead we visited the castle, went kayaking, watched the first of the World Cup and did some more yummy cooking!  OH!  Funny travel moment.  One afternoon for lunch we were all starving, but looking for somewhere good to eat, where we could eat outside, but in the shade, and that wasnt super touristy.  So we are walking along the waterfront and we see this somewhat dingy little place, but it is packed with people speaking a language that none of us understand and that sounds like it very well could be Croatian… so, we think, “Hey, great, looks like weve found where all the locals go for lunch!”  Granted, the food was tasty, but about 15-20 minutes in, we realize that the restaurant is actually completely filled by a single tour group….possibly Croatian, or Slovenian, or Serbian… who really knows, but we felt pretty awesome realizing that there was not infact a single local in our “locals restaurants” of choice :)

Alright, so that generally wraps up the trip.  There was much more to it of course, but for the sake of brevity, that is all for now.  Below is a great photo of Jordi and I contemplating our epic cliff jump, yes we did it, about 40-45 feet high Id say, and yes it was amazing and totally worth it.

The cliff jump

Sibling love :)

So, on the 12th of June, I met up with my next travel buddies, Christopher and David, in Zagreb where we had a final dinner with my family and watched the US World Cup game.  Chris and David, two great friends from home were both at various stages of their own Eurotrips – Chris wrapping his up and David just getting started.  We all had Eurail passes, backpacks (Osprey love!!  David and I had sweet matching Osprey backpacks, Chris’ was cool too I guess :) ) and a vague itinerary… but no set plans, not hostels booked, just the spirit of adventure and spontanaeity and 2 weeks to get from Croatia to Bordeaux, France; where I had to be on the 25th to start Phase 3 of the post Spain adventures.

Our basic itinerary was this:

Ljubljana, Slovenia, 1 nights – capital of Slovenia, pretty town, slept 14 hours our first night there, guess we needed that!

Lake Bled, Slovenia, 2 nights – stunning little alps town, castles,  lake, lots of foosball, biking adventure, extended our stay because it was just that amazing

Salzburg, Austria – 2 nights; first Couchsurfing experience, success!  first beer hall, sooooo much good beer and pretzels while playing hours of Rummy

Munich and Dachau, Germany – 1 night, an amazing night out on the town and our hostel was a GIANT TENT!!  Loved the place and the people.

Berlin, Germany – 3 nights, I just plain loved Berlin.  So much that it gets 2 lines!  We did a great NewEurope tour that explained so much of the fascinating history that makes Berlin incredible.  Delicious food, pub crawl, met great friends, said goodbye to Chris :(

Amsterdam, Netherlands – 1 night, David and I did a whirlwind 24 hour tour of Amsterdam and that was just about perfect, a little bit of everything its known for, life-changing Westleveren trappsit beer, Van Gogh Museum, and a quaint little English tea room with amawing sandwiches.

Brussels, Belgium – 3 nights, it was like staying in a spa, David and Barbara were our wonderful hosts, we had so much fun just relaxing, eating good home cooked meals, sleeping in luciously soft beds, playing with Ellie the dog!  It was everything we needed after non-stop hostel hopping.

Bordeaux – 1 nights, David split off for Paris before this, I headed dozn on my own.  Couchsurfed again; though it was actually floor surfing…nice guy though it made for a very sore back in the morning.  Good thing it was the food and wine festival and a couple glasses of wine quicklmy remedied that dilemma.

So thats that, a whirlwind summary of two absolutely incredible weeks of travel with two of my very favorite people.  We had some great adventures and came away with so many fun memories… We are already planning future adventures to the next World Cup in Brazil, and future business endeavours that include a 5 story floating hostel, with its own bakery, outdoor sporting store, bar, hot tub….there is so much more to this plan that I am drawing a blank on, the boys are going to have to fill the in the gaps here, sorry….

Unfortunately I have no pictures to post from this yet.  Chris and David have TONS that I will borrow from and put up once Im back in Olympia in a week and a half or so.  Until then, you will just have to imagine what sort of trouble we got ourselves into :)

And that brings me to Bordeaux, or to be more exact Castillon, in the Bordeaux region of the south of France.  It is one of the famous wine regions of france, dry and sunny and my home for the next 2 weeks.  On the 27th I took a local train out to tiny Castillon and met up with Andrea, one of my hosts at Chateau Brandeau, the vineyard that I am volunteering (or WWOOFing) at until I fly home on the 14th of July.  A post will soon follow detailing this!

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and finals have unfortunately arrived…

3 weeks left in Spain…it’s a little surreal to think about really.  Though I won’t be home home for another 2 months, the end of my time in Spain is seeming like a huge deal right now.  It’s extremely unfortunate that my last couple weeks here are completely bombarded by final exams, presentations and papers, leaving me only 3-4 days of true freedom once all of that is wrapped up.  42 pages to be exact, 42 pages of spanish essays to write, a 30 minute presentation, and 2 big exams.  YUCK.  I just keep thinking about the many things I have yet to do in Barcelona – see Montserrat, lay in the sun on the beach, go out to the countless bars and restaurants on my lists that I haven’t made it to yet, see the Pedrera, rent bikes, go salsa dancing…the list itself could be an entire blog post, but that would just be taking up time that should be spent out doing exactly those things!  Sadly… most of that time needs to be spent at home, in the library or some cozy, quiet place taking care of that long list of schoolwork.  Criticism #1 of school in Spain…whyyyyyyy must they save it all for the end?!  There is little to no work all semester long, no homework, very few readings, and then they drop it on you all at the end, not very happy about it!

To keep my peace of mind…for the mean time at least.  I am spending the weekend away.  Currently, I am in Toulouse, France, spending some wonderful time in the rolling hills of the southern french countryside with my family, Marc, Cate, Julien, Serge and Jacqui.  It is rainy and brisk here as well (it seems this weather is following me lately) but we have been indulging in rich and fantastic French food, taking walks or racing my 5 year old cousin around the yard, and today we went to see a 1000 year old castle in Carcossone!  In the evenings I try to get some work done, and commit all 7 hours on the bus, to and from, to school work, so that’s how I’m justifying the time away.  Though it’s not helping my anxiety about leaving Barcelona, it is so nice to get out of the big noisy city for a bit and breathe in the fresh, clean air.  I’ve been coughing, and hacking non-stop for the past two weeks, so maybe this will finally be my remedy.

Food update!  I started my French culinary experience with a classic steak fritte, excellently prepared by my uncle’s mother, Jacqui and her husband Serge.  Lunch today was cassoulet – a traditional dish in this area, consisting of tender white beans, pork confit, duck leg, and local sausage, all stewed together and cooked in duck fat over a period of 3 days till it melts in your mouth, hot out of a little clay dish.  It was comfort food at it’s finest.  In the afternoon we had a little pick-me-up crepe and chocolate chaud (hot cocoa), and for dinner local Toulouse sausage and homemade zucchini gratín, with strawberries and cream for dessert.  I may have to fast next week to make up for it, but oooooh my is it worth if for now.  Everything is truly divine and I am looking forward to coming back in a month and a half for my stay on the vineyard – I’ve heard that the owners are excellent chefs as well.

I think that’s all I’ve got for now.  Nest week is going to be finals hell, nothing too exciting there.  Then Friday my Dad and Grandpa get into town and I’ll meet them at the Barcelona airport for a long weekend in Madrid (finals escape round 2).  It’s the Champion’s League final in Madrid that weekend, so I’m sure it will be madness, and unfortunately Barça didn’t make it through, but it will be a great weekend nonetheless and hopefully my rainspell with give it a rest!

I’ll post Toulouse pictures once I get back to Barcelona on Sunday!  My 5 year old cousin Julien is going through his Zoolander modeling phase, so he is the predominant subject matter – adorable as usual :)

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